Sandy Kiddoo, the newly appointed president of Northland Community and Technical College, said she intends to do a lot of listening and learning in her first few months on the job, but she’s already looking at ways her experience can benefit the school.
Kiddoo’s first day as president was on July 1. She was appointed to the position on April 21 by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees. She came to NCTC after serving as chief academic officer of Hazard Community and Technical College in Kentucky. There she led efforts to create and implement a strategic academic master plan, adopt a long-term facilities plan and added needed manufacturing programs to support local employers.
Kiddoo spoke with the Herald on Thursday, July 15, about relocating to East Grand Forks, and her ideas for NCTC. Running through that conversation was the theme of improvement, about building on the successes of today for the needs of tomorrow.
“Part of how I always focus (my) life is what can I do better tomorrow than what I did today?” Kiddoo said. “It's not saying that there's anything wrong with what I'm doing, it's just that I want to get better. I think that's the kind of culture I really want to promote here. I'm going to be pushing that a lot to individuals.”
Kiddoo is stepping into a successful program. Northland’s graduation rate is higher than the combined average of other Minnesota state colleges, but Kidoo thinks it can be better, particularly in light of the labor shortage. It’s her goal to improve that rate, and get more students through the doors and retain them year-to-year. Doing so, she said, enhances the economic vibrancy of the community, both in terms of raising graduates’ earning power, and providing skilled workers for local businesses.
“My first thought is let's get more students to graduation,” she said. “Let's really put our resources and energy behind that.”
In the technical college world, attrition is a factor for a number of reasons. “Jobbing out” is one of them, which happens when a student leaves school for full-time employment. Kiddoo said she wants to engage with employers who have hired Northland students, on supporting them through to graduation.
And students sometimes leave for financial or family reasons. She said Northland does a good job of supporting students there, but her philosophy is to always find ways to make things better. She said she wants to make sure the school has all the necessary services to make sure students are supported, so they can complete their education.
When it comes to attracting more students, Kiddoo said focusing on adults that don’t have the credentials they need to change careers or move up in a company is an untapped market, one the school can focus on as an area for growth. The traditional 18-year-old student will always be an important target, so improving programs and adding needed areas of study are ways to give younger people a reason to stay local.
And Kiddoo said she likes the local area. She moved to East Grand Forks in mid-June, giving her just enough time to change her driver’s license and check out the nearby supermarket before starting her job. Dining out has been a treat, and a change from the rural Appalachian town of Hazard where she worked before. She said she likes Up North Pizza Pub and she’s looking forward to dining at other local favorite places. The farmer’s market, held downtown on Saturdays, has also been fun. Kiddoo said she likes locally grown and made foods. She bought lefse recently, and it wasn’t the first time she’d had it.
“I’m from Wisconsin, so I had to do that,” Kiddoo said.
Before serving as chief academic officer of Hazard Community and Technical College, Kiddo was vice president of academics at Mid-State Technical College in Wisconsin from 2015-2018. Prior to that, she was education director for transportation and electronics, and then associate vice president of instruction, with the Wisconsin Technical College System.
Kiddoo earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, and a master’s degree from Capella University. She received a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
At Northland Kiddoo will lead the largest community and technical college in northwest Minnesota, with more than 4,000 students learning in over 80 programs. The school is spread out between two campuses in East Grand Forks and Thief River Falls, which includes an aerospace site. She earns $200,000 per year as president.